I have seen too many wounded women.
I have watched them lose the light in their eyes when the shadows overcame them.
I have heard a thousand reasons why they no longer give themselves permission to live truthfully.
I have seen too many wild hearts tamed.
I have witnessed the loss of courage when it’s just too hard to keep being an edgewalker in a world that values conformists.
I’ve recognized the fear as they take tiny brave steps, hoping and praying the direction is right.
“I feel guilty whenever I indulge in my passions. It feels selfish and irresponsible.”
“My husband doesn’t like it when I talk about feminine wisdom, so I keep it to myself.”
“If I write the things that are burning in my heart, it will freak people out. So I remain silent.”
“I used to love wandering in the woods, but I never have time for it anymore.”
“I just want to have a real conversation for a change. I want to feel safe to speak my heart.”
“My job makes me feel dead inside, but I don’t know what else I can do.”
“People expect me to be strong and hide my feelings now that I’m in leadership. I feel like I have too much bottled up inside that I can’t share with anyone.”
“Sometimes I think there must be something wrong with me. I just don’t fit in.”
“There is so much longing in the world. I get lost in that longing and don’t know how to sit with it.”
“I wanted to be a painter, but I needed a real career. I haven’t painted in years.”
“People think I’m strange when I share my ideas, so I’ve learned to keep them to myself.”
“I can’t go to church anymore. I don’t feel understood there. But I haven’t found another place where I can find community, so I often feel lonely.”
“There’s a restless energy inside me that wants to be free. I long to be free.”
So much woundedness has been laid tenderly on the ground at my feet.
So many women want their stories validated. Their fears held gently. Their tiny bits of courage honoured.
I hear them whisper “please hear me” through clenched teeth.
I see the tears threaten to overflow out of stoic eyes.
I recognize the longing.
I know the brokenness.
I feel the ache of silenced dreams.
They come to me because they know I have been broken too.
They trust me with their whispers because I am acquainted with fear.
They look to me for courage and understanding because they witness my own long and painful journey back to my wild heart.
I see you.
I know you.
I honour you.
I love you.
You are beautiful.
You are courageous.
You are okay.
You can be wild again.
You can trust your heart. She will not lie to you.
You can live more fully in your body. She will welcome you back.
You can go home to that part of you that feels like it’s been lost.
You can find a circle of people who will understand you.
You can step back into courage.
You have permission to be an edgewalker.
You have permission to speak the things that you’re longing to say.
You have permission to be truly yourself.
You have permission to step away from your responsibilities for awhile.
You have permission to wander in the woods.
You also have permission to be afraid.
And to wait for the right time.
And to sit quietly while you build up your courage.
You don’t need to do this all alone.
And you don’t need to do it all at once.
You don’t need to shout before you’re ready to whisper.
You don’t need to dance before you’ve tried simply swaying to the music.
You can give your woundedness time to heal.
Take a small step back into your self.
Move a little closer to your wild heart.
Pause and touch the wounded places in you.
Just breathe… slowly and deeply.
And when you’re ready, we can do this together.
If this post resonates, please consider the following:
1. Join me as I host a circle of amazing women at A Day Retreat for Women of Courage in Winnipeg on October 20th. Pay what you can.
2. I’m creating a new online program called Lead with Your Wild Heart (related to the themes in this post) that feels like a coming together of a thousand ideas that have filled my head in recent years. Add your name to my email list (top right) to be the first to hear about it and to receive a discount.
There is so much bad news out there, if you look for it. Riots in London, failing economies, famine in East Africa, changing climate causing erratic weather disasters… the list goes on and on. Some days it feels like the whole world is crashing in around us.
It’s enough to make a person completely discouraged. It’s enough to make a person want to bury her head in the sand, and choose to live a self-focused life instead of spending seemingly useless energy on problems that are too big to manage.
Everything I see tells me the same thing over and over again… we need a big hairy audacious paradigm shift.
We need to imagine the world differently.
We need to imagine leadership differently.
We need to imagine ourselves differently.
We need to imagine community differently.
We need to get our heads out of the sand and instead of paying attention to the big ugly negative news, turn our attention toward each other.
We need to keep on caring for each other even though it hurts sometimes and often feels like useless resistance in a tsunami of bad news.
We need to start insisting that our news media focus on the good in people and not just the bad.
We need to engage our creativity and collaboration and stop listening to those people who tell us that consumption and competition is what makes the world go round.
We need to stop believing that the economy is our god and over-consumption is okay because it feeds the economy. We need to seek happiness in other places than shopping malls.
We need to turn to each other, focus on building our communities where we live, and trust that the benefit of local communities will have far-reaching impact (as my friend Kathy Jourdain so eloquently suggests).
We need women and men who will rise up and shift the tide away from aggressive “command and control” leadership to participative “engage and collaborate” leadership.
We need to sit in circles and tell each other stories that will help us understand and celebrate each others’ differences and similarities.
We need to engage our right brains in conceptual, creative, intuitive, spiritual thinking and start imagining new patterns that will shift us away from our self-destructive paths.
We need to get our egos out of the way and start admitting that the only way to find a new path through the weeds is to trust each other to contribute the necessary skills. And then we need to believe that we are better together than alone.
THIS is why we need more feminine wisdom in leadership. It’s not about women taking over from men (and making their own sets of mistakes). It’s about trusting the wisdom that tends to be more inherent in women than in men. (Even the Washington Post says so.) It’s about engaging our creativity, spirituality, compassion, collaboration, and empathy in the way we lead. It’s about letting our right brains contribute to our decisions as much as our left brains.
None of these problems is going to be fixed overnight. In fact, even using the word “fix” shows limited thinking on our part. These things are not simple problems with simple solutions. There is no linear logic to apply, like a math problem on a high school exam. We can’t just assign more police to the streets of London, for example. We need to look at the systemic problems that shaped what happened long before anything erupted. There is deep complexity that will require a lot of deep thinking and collaborating and failing and trying again and meditating and engaging in conversation.
When change happens, there is always a time of great chaos before new solutions are found. It feels like much of the world is in that place of chaos now. This is not a time for despair. This is a time for hope and creativity. This is a time to gather together and lean on each other.
The world needs new ideas. The world needs YOUR ideas. Get your head out of the sand and start sharing them.
After writing my last post, visiting several of the other blog posts written for the Girl Effect Blogging Campaign, and watching some of the Girl Effect videos, I am left with a thought that keeps niggling at me…
We desperately need more MEN to help with the Girl Effect.
Let me tell you a story…
I was an innocent twenty-one year old former farm girl, in my second year in the big city, when a man climbed through the window of my basement apartment and raped me. It shook my world and shattered my innocence.
But this story is not about the rape – it’s about what happened afterwards.
When I finally convinced the man to leave my apartment (after 2 hours of abuse and nearly being choked to death), I ran down the street to the home of my friends Terence and Sheryle. It was a place I knew I would be safe – where I could fall apart and be held together by their strength.
I sat and cried on their couch, and Terence sat at my feet, his hands gently holding my ankles. His face was full of agony and despair, as he held my pain in his strong yet soft heart. I’m sure he was feeling some of the burden by association for the violence a member of his gender had caused me.
Terence didn’t hesitate to phone his supervisor and take the morning off. He knew he needed to be there to help me survive that horrible morning of police reports, a hospital visit, and endless privacy-invading questions. (Incidentally, it was also my friend Terence who, years later, nearly delivered my second daughter when I showed up at the hospital where he was an ER doctor.)
Knowing I needed to be surrounded by people who loved me, that afternoon I phoned one of the most tender-hearted people I knew – my brother Dwight. He too rushed away from his workplace to be by my side. Dwight is one of those rare and beautiful people in front of whom you know you can cry without ever feeling shame. I’m pretty sure he joined me in my tears, making me feel wrapped in a warm blanket of love.
The next day – partly because I’d been taught by my Dad to be strong in the face of obstacles – I was determined not to let the rapist destroy my dreams. So I drove to the town where I was planning to participate in my first triathlon (as a cyclist on a relay team) that weekend. As I got closer though, I knew that the pain in my neck, and the overall shakiness and trauma of my body would not let me ride. I had to give it up, and I had to be somewhere that I felt completely safe, away from race crowds.
I turned my brother’s car around and headed home, to the farm – to the safe arms of my mom and dad.
When I walked in the house, I fell apart, in a puddle of tears and fear and anger and overwhelm. My mom did what she does best – wrapped her arms around me and nurtured me.
My dad fell silent, his body hunched with pain. While Mom soothed me, he walked out of the house. Moments later, he returned.
“I remember,” he said, his shoulders stooped in that familiar way he had of showing humility and agony, “a man whose daughter was raped years ago. He spent the next years of his life trying to find the man who did it so that he could kill him.” And then he paused while his voice shook. “Suddenly I know EXACTLY how he felt.”
Despite the pain I was suffering, I don’t know when I’ve felt so loved. My pacifist father, who didn’t believe in war or violence and never let my brothers have toy guns in the house, was suddenly willing to kill a man on my behalf.
This I know – it has been a significant blessing in my life to be surrounded by men who know how to love, how to show compassion, and how to show up when they’re needed. Though they may not have known it at the time, their tears were as valuable to me as their strength. Even though I had been abused by a man, I knew there were men I could continue to trust in my life.
It is partly because of these men that I can be the woman I am today.
There have been others too, throughout my life. Like my husband Marcel, in whose arms I crumpled when my dad died a sudden accidental death. Or my other brother Brad, who I have turned to many, many times for help – like the time he sent money for my sister and I caught in an urgent situation in Europe. Or my friend Rob, who sat and held my dead son Matthew, said few words but shed the right amount of tears.
There are many places in this world where my rape experience could have turned out so very differently. There are places where my father might have refused to talk to me because I’d brought shame on his household. Or places where I would have been shunned from my village for a sexual encounter before marriage, even if I was an unwilling participant. Or places where I would have been forced to marry my rapist because I was soiled goods and nobody else would want me. Or places where I would have risked yet another rape if I’d shown up at the police office to report the crime.
In Malaysia, Rath escaped a brothel where she was kept as a sex slave, went to report it to the police, and then was imprisoned by the police and later sold by a police officer to another sex trafficker.
In Ethiopia, Moinshet was kidnapped by the man who wanted to marry her, and then repeatedly raped by him and his friends. When she escaped and told the local authorities, they refused to arrest him and instead tried to force her to marry him. In the end, she had to leave her village because she was shunned for her refusal to marry him.
In Pakistan, Mukhtar’s brother Shakur was kidnapped and gang-raped by members of a higher caste. When his rapists became nervous that they might be caught, they accused him of having sex with a young girl from their caste. Mukhtar appeared at the tribal assembly on her family’s behalf to apologize and try to soothe feelings. The tribal council decided that an apology was not enough, and instead ordered Mukhtar to be gang-raped. Four men dragged her into an empty stable and, as the crowd waited outside, stripped and raped her on the dirt floor.
There are many, many other stories like this in Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide, by Nicholas D. Kristoff and Sheryl WuDunn. Read it and be moved.
Thankfully, in some of the stories, there were men who stepped in and supported the women (like Moinshet, whose father took her away from the village and refused to marry her off to the man who raped her).
But I keep wondering… how do we change the paradigm for the men in these situations, not just the women? Sure we can insist that countries come up with better laws to protect the women, but how do we educate boys so that they grow up believing it is NOT okay to treat women like this?
What I keep coming back to is this – we need more men who are willing to step in and model a different way. We need more men like those who stood by me in my crisis, shed tears with me and then lent me strength, and we need them to teach others to do the same.
A lot of “what ifs” pop into my head.
What if the man who raped me had been raised by a compassionate father or taught compassion by his teachers at school?
What if our global leaders modeled compassion and deep respect for women?
What if police officers were taught not only to be strong, but to be compassionate? And what if the police officers we send to train police officers in other countries were doing the same?
What if we only elected officials who knew how to treat women with respect (and encouraged women of other countries to do the same)?
What if the peacekeepers we send to areas of conflict were actually modeling PEACE and not further exasperating the situation?
What if more development agencies were sending out male teachers who would model and teach compassion to boys in schools?
I personally know a lot of men who would love to see the world change for young women living with oppression. I sat with some of those men (my friends Larry and Steve) in that run down office in India that I talked about in my last post, where we all mourned the tragedy of so many young girls being sold into sex slavery.
If you are one of those men, THANK YOU. And KEEP IT UP. And know that what you are doing is of vital importance. Don’t give up until you have modeled it to enough other men that we see a sea change in the world.
Compassionate men, we NEED you!